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Internal Improvement Lands (1841)

Congress approved legislation in September of 1841 granting nine states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan and Arkansas) 500,000 acres of land to be selected by their respective legislatures and sold for the purpose of making internal improvements. The tracts selected had to consist of no less than 320 acres in any one location, had to be surveyed according to existing laws, and could be selected at any time. These lands could not be sold for less than $1.25 an acre and the states were required to apply the net proceeds to the construction of roads, railways, bridges, canals, improvement of water-courses and draining of swamps. After the improvements were made, the lands were to be free for the transportation of the mail, munitions of war, and troops without payment of any toll.


Prospective owners were required to swear an oath they were not land owners of more than 320 acres in any state or territory and that the land was for their exclusive use and benefit and they were not acquiring the land for speculation. Anyone swearing falsely was subject to penalties of perjury, forfeited the monies paid for the land along with the title and any conveyance to anyone other than a “bona fide” purchaser was considered null and void.


This legislation also established that the same terms would apply to any new state admitted to the union from this point forward. Interestingly, this Act was amended less than a year later in March 1842 for the states of Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri. The amendment authorized the governors of these states, not the legislature(s), to select the internal improvement lands.